14 July 2006

McClellan the Great

I was trolling about Battery Park looking for the water taxi that goes to Red Hook when I noticed the city had slapped on a handsome new paint job on the 1909 Battery Marine Terminal. A hideous cast-iron relic as recently as 2004 when I entered it to board a ferry to Governor's Island, it now looks fine in colors of army green and umber. A not easily seen plaque inside the building reminded me it was dedicated by then mayor George B. McClellan Jr.

McClennan's name has cropped up regularly in recent years, making me wonder if this now completely forgotten politico might have actually been one of the most significant Hizzoners the city ever had. Everything seemed to have happened during his six years in office from 1903 to 1909. He was there to inaugurate the New York City subway system, and officially renamed Longacre Square as Times Square. He oversaw the building of the Queensboro and Manhattan bridges, Chelsea Piers, the Municipal Building, and the Catskill water system. On the darker side, he was Mayor during the horrid tragedy of the General Slocum, a touring boat that caught fire in the East River, killing more than 1,000 people, making it worst loss of life in NYC until 9/11. He battled William Randolph Hearst and won, and willingly committed political suicide by challenging Tammany Hall.

Certainly a better man than his dithering father, the Civil War general who could never find a good enough reason to fight Johnny Reb. And a better politician than any George we've got these days.

No comments: